Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Easy Rider (Dennis Hopper) - 1969

Sometimes you watch the right film at the wrong time. Easy Rider is very much a film about an era. A culture. A film focused on the counter culture. The hippies of the late '60s. A group of people so set on being able to live off the land, to live in a state of constant peace, and the sense of not having to answer to anything. Nature and self as the only two beings of importance. How timely that I would watch this film during a period of intense depression. The feeling of being trapped, caged has been looming over me for months. How do we escape? How do we find freedom? Are these just ideals?

This is the great outsider film. In this film, we are shown two lost souls. Two hippies and the way they interact with society. And the way society interacts back. These two men are standing in for a series of outsiders- women, queers, blacks, artists, etc. Easy Rider is the film of the outsider's American experience. It is lonely. And it is a rough example to witness.

I have read reviews stating the movie is dated. The ending is too heavy handed. I think I disagree, mostly. The ending may be a little heavy handed. But, art has a purpose. A message. In order for Easy Rider to really get the point across, the viewer has to take part in some pretty harsh and painful moments. I only found these scenes to elevate the film into the deeper purpose I felt it wanted to present from the start.

I love road movies. Easy Rider is very much a road movie. The only difference may be the purpose. Most road movies have a definite end result. The characters are always heading from point A to point B. In Easy Rider, while Mardi Gras is mentioned as a pseudo-point B, it is never actually the last place the two characters plan to end their trip. These are road side prophets. Men made mad from drugs.

Easy Rider is filmed in a very New Wave style. Much of the time I was reminded of the films of Godard. Mostly, Vivre Sa Vie and Band of Outsiders. The images had a lot of low grain quality, but were composed in such thoughtful ways. There were clips of images flashed on the screen that wouldn't be experienced until a minute or two later. Many of the images played out like photography. The Americana of it all reminded me of some of the images of William Eggleston (only a little).

My only complaint may be the acting. At times, the acting is a bit off. Much of the film is made up of extras. So, I can't really blame a cast of non-actors for being poor actors. And, on the other hand, the film isn't always about the things being said. On some level, Easy Rider reminded me of a foreign film. This wasn't a movie filled with lots of dialogue. When something was said, it was meant to be heard.

I try to think of the films that really caused me to breakdown in the end. Dancer in the Dark and The Wrestler are the two films in recent history that I recall leaving me completely devastated by the end. Easy Rider is now one of those films. Once I realized how things were going to end, I could only start to cry. And once it happened, I could only break down. Sadly, I had to gather myself up and head off to work. If I didn't have to work, I imagine I could have spent hours in tears.

We are a country that likes to talk. We like to share our opinions. We like to dream big. We like to imagine something more for ourselves. But, in the end, we're scared. We're afraid of change. We're afraid of those who are different. We're afraid of those who force us to question ourselves. Billy and Wyatt wanted to stop being afraid. They wanted to make a new path. We are witness to their mistakes. To their problems. To how removed you might have to make yourself in order to really survive the day to day. Is freedom a reality or just an idea? Easy Rider never really tells you. It only makes you understand how dangerous the pursuit of it can be.


Roseannearchy, Roseanne Barr (2011)

It is a bit shocking that I not only read some of this book. But, that I read all of this book. I don't like non-fiction. I don't like memoir. And, I don't like funny literature. So, for me to have read this book does seem a little bit far fetched. But, Roseanne will forever hold a special place in my heart. I can't name a single woman who has made me laugh or cry as hard as Roseanne has in my life. When I heard she had a new book out, I felt I owed it to myself to experience something new from Roseanne. Roseannearchy is Roseanne's third non-fiction book. I have not read the previous books. I have nothing to compare this book to other than the TV series Roseanne and a couple of her comedy specials.

It seems Roseanne has been quiet for the past handful of years. She has always been blogging, but she has stepped away from the camera a bit. During her time away, Roseanne found a lot of inner peace. For her, it came in the form of religion, conversation, philosophy, and looking inward. Recently, she's appeared again, with intentions of running for president. Roseanne wants the truth to be shared with America. She wants everyone to understand and see through the lies we're being told by our politicians. Of course, this is all part of Roseanne's style of humor. A loud, in your face approach to getting everyone to listen to common sense for a few minutes. Sometimes it works and sometimes it back fires.

I was shocked to see the forward of Roseannearchy was written by Roseanne's first husband. The man she was married to before she became famous and was with at the start of her fame. I always assumed things were bad between the two of them. But, as proof to Roseanne's need to understand herself through her past, it makes sense that their past is brought up and cleaned up in such a mature manner. This is certainly a memoir of growth.

Much of what Roseanne writes about is aging. She does this with her typical blend of humor and truth. I did find myself laughing out loud a handful of times. This is something I rarely, if ever, do when reading. For that, I have to respect Roseanne's book. On the other hand, this certainly isn't the most well written book of the year. Not that anyone would go into this book expecting literature or grand ideas. I most certainly am not holding this to the typical standard of literature. Although, there are moments when it all feels a little too empty. Passages that feel like rambling. A few chapters are dedicated to memories of her childhood. At this point in Roseanne's career, I feel we're all more than aware of her upbringing. And maybe not always interested in reading ten plus pages of the past. But, I understand their placement within the text as a way to show how we really need to look back inside ourselves in order to change ourselves.

I think my favorite parts of the book are when Roseanne speaks about dieting and weight. We are all aware of Roseanne's weight struggles. In fact, her struggles are our struggles. We have all looked in a mirror and wanted to be something else. Someone else. A little thinner and more toned. Roseanne doesn't buy this anymore. With age comes wisdom, they say. It was nice to hear her thoughts on the weight obsession of her past and the way she embraces weight now. We do live in a society where people are bigger, but we are constantly told how wrong this is for them. Maybe it is wrong. But, at the same time, we shouldn't put so much effort into disdain for the overweight when we have so many other problems in our world. Reading Roseanne's passages on weight really struck me. Will they change me? Probably not. But, they'll make me think a little differently for a few days at least.

This is a presentation of ideas and revelations. Roseanne admits she smokes pot to help with OCD and other obsessive traits. She admits to drinking when she writes. Roseanne is never anything more than very honest. And, I will always respect this about her. This is very much not a memoir for anyone who doesn't just adore Roseanne. For those of us that do, it was nice to take part in a brief one sided chat with someone so admired.


Tuesday, February 22, 2011

EP, Beth Ditto (2011)

I have been a fan of Gossip for a few years now. I love their earlier work (Movement) and how it seems to come from the Led Zeppelin-esque Black Keys genre of blues alt-rock. And I adore the band's growth. The groups most recent album, Music for Men, was a much more pop influenced album than anything they'd released previously. I heard many fans grew annoyed at this change. It seemed to make perfect sense to me. Beth Ditto is in every sense a pop star. Alright, maybe not every sense... but, it is there. In the way she moves, dresses, speaks.

On hearing Ditto was releasing a solo EP I found my eyes rolling and an annoyed grown coming from my throat. I don't like lead singers that go off on their own to create solo careers. Just stick with the band. What could be so horribly awful that you have to destroy a good thing?

In the case of Ditto's EP, it isn't so much a desire to go solo. The EP is more of an experience to be playful. In 2009, Simian Mobile Disco released the album Temporary Pleasure. One of the best tracks off this album is an incredible dance driven track featuring the vocals of Beth Ditto, "Cruel Intentions." EP is meant as a way for Simian Mobile Disco and Beth Ditto to work together, again. This isn't Ditto living out some solo dream. This is a chance for change without being thought of as giving up on "the Gossip sound."

The first single from EP, and best track, is "I Wrote the Book." The song feels to be very similar to "Cruel Intentions." This is possibly why I love the song as much as I do. The song is about heartbreak. Nothing new. But, her lyrics are sharp and feisty: 'revenge, regret, I wrote the book.' The single comes with a video. Clearly a nod (and slight copy) of Madonna's "Justify My Love" video. Filled with black and white shots of hotel rooms and hallways. Men dancing, prancing. Ditto strutting around. Although, this is certainly the PG rated version of the Madonna video.

My least favorite track on the 4-track EP is "Goodnight, Good Morning." The song has a great start and great first half. But, the song is 7 minutes long. On an album 4 songs long and 22 minutes in lenght, 7 minutes can start to feel a little on the distracting side. Of course, I'm not suggesting the song is bad. Just a little more noticeable that I would like it to be.

The EP is a great example of the power of Ditto's voice and lyrics. The great music supplied by Simian Mobile Disco really adds a new sound to the Ditto history.


Monday, February 21, 2011

Martyrs (Pascal Laugier) - 2008

As stated many times, I am a fan of horror films. Over the past couple of years, I have been reading a lot of articles and reviews about horror films that have been asking 'when is too much too far?' and 'how far are we willing to go for a scare?' These questions arrive after such films as Hostel and Saw started turning horror films into more of a torture porn film. There is something to be said about these questions. That which scared us once isn't always going to scare us. Eventually, we need something a little more intense. Something that goes a little bit further than the last film we watched. So when are we to blame for how far the horror genre goes? As Michael Haneke pointed out in his brilliant Funny Games, the audience is just as much a part of the violence.

Martyrs is a difficult film to discuss without giving too much away. I went into the film only knowing it was being called one of the most violent films in recent history. I only knew enough about the film to get me through what I call the "first act." For everything that takes place during the "second act" was very sudden and I had heard nothing about this film heading in the direction it eventually went. I enjoyed both the first and second act of the film. Although, I do believe they tie together a little too loosely. In the end, the experience overshadows the thread of the plot.

The first act of the film plays out like High Tension. A very intense, confusing, violent confrontation between the audience and the film. We are even handed a twist similar to that of High Tension before the film is half over. This surprise isn't quite that much of a surprise. In fact, it is expected. And, so brilliantly used to distract the audience from asking 'why' everything else is taking place. In fact, the distractions used throughout this film really distract on a level I have never experienced in a horror film.

At the start of the film, we are introduced to a young girl running from an abandoned factory, Lucie. She is clearly a victim of abuse. We soon find out she is only a victim of physical abuse. She was never sexually abused. She is taken into an orphanage where she befriends Anna. As she is growing up, Lucie does not reveal all that happened to her in the factory and she doesn't quite remember who tortured her. But, fifteen years after escaping she spots the image of a man and woman in a local newspaper. She knows these were those who held her captive. Within the first twenty minutes of the film, Lucie is at their door and massacres the whole family. Eventually calling Anna in for assistance.

All of this happens very early on in the film. And, some of this adds to the extreme violence. It is an intense build up. Not exactly anything brand new, but expressed painfully. While at the same time, the cinematography is poetic. Almost unexpected from a horror film. Again, maybe these beautiful moments are used to distract from what has happened and what is going to happen.

I can't say anything more without giving away the film. Perhaps, this is the biggest downfall of the film. The inability to explain and discuss without ruining. It is the type of film that you can only really see once. The first viewing being a complete shock to the viewer (in image and in purpose). What allows this film to rise above being a total gore fest is the message. The heart of the film. The purpose. The big reveal. And, even after one big reveal... we are still greeted with one more by the film's finale. How many climaxes can one film have? Martyrs contains at least three.

After I watched the film I was confused. I was shocked. I was disturbed. Not necessarily by what I was forced to see, but what I was forced to ask and think about. How often does a horror film cause you to really question its purpose? Then to cause you to question your own?


Thursday, February 17, 2011

What He's Poised to Do: Stories, Ben Greenman (2010)

When was the last time you wrote a letter and sent it through the mail? Or, mailed a postcard while away on vacation? These are such extinct thoughts to many of us. Instead, we just email or text our friends and families. Everyone is a phone call or a click away. It seems so timely I would come across this collection of short stories as I find myself made more and more afraid by the future of technology. In a world where a generation is growing up with Kindles (aka Robot Books) and other forms of not having to really read a book, it was nice to find a book lost in an idea or concept that is still so close to our fingertips. But, very far behind us.

Ben Greenman writes a beautiful short story. Greenman knows the importance of word choice. Greenman knows how to edit his sentences to be just as precise as someone would want them to be. In fact, there is something almost dated to the prose of Greenman. Can a contemporary really write with such distance while still maintaining an element of emotion with the characters? It always feels as thought authors are picking one or the other. I am not suggesting Greenman is an incredible short story write. What Greenman is though, is a talented short story builder. Greenman knows what is expected and how to structure.

Of the fourteen stories from the collection, I only found myself really drawn to the three of them. The opening story, 'What He's Poised to Do' is beautiful in how simple and confusing the emotion of falling in love with the idea of another life and another woman. The idea of escape without revenge being a motive. This is one of the shortest stories of the collection, but certainly the strongest.

The second story I adored, 'The Hunter & the Hunted' follows a similar idea as the first story. This is the story of an affair. There is something so charming about the affairs in these stories. And, that they are lived on the other sides of these postcards and letters. This sense of diary and revelation. This sense of secret and exposure. I can't fully form the words to explain what I want to say.

The closing story, 'Her Hand' starts out as a history of the events of a woman's hand. What a truly fresh and welcomed concept for a story. By the stories end, we realize this woman is wife to the man from the first story. We see her sadness from both sides- the cheating husband's view and her own aftermath of the affair. How smart of Greenman to make us wait until the final story. How wise to connect these two stories and give the readers a small sense of closure in a collection with very little closure.

Overall, there may be too much distance in these stories. The one sided aspect of the postcards and the personal journeys we are reading about sort of made me feel too cut off from ever really feeling completely lost into the character. Certainly a very strong collection, but not always the type of fiction I am looking to read.


Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Dynamite Steps, The Twilight Singers (2011)

I first heard The Twilight Singers around 2005 or 2006. A friend and I had spent the evening at the record store and she had heard good things about the band. She purchased She Loves You. An album of covers, songs ranging from Bjork, Fleetwood Mac, and John Coltrane. The album was meant as background for an evening of conversation. But, somehow, the album became a mood for the conversation. Something about lead singer Greg Dulli's voice will always haunt.

Dulli's voice is a mix of Randy Newman's balloon throated sounds and Tom Waits' whiskey ripped voice. A more radio friendly vocalist, but not quite radio friendly enough. Dulli is the man you find at the same bar stool. Nightly. The same dive bar. Nightly. His songs are the lost souls of the late night. Men and women unable to really hold onto themselves or one another. Every Dulli album is pretty similar to the next. Lyrically, vocally, musically... Dulli doesn't really change. But, I like him for all of these reasons.

On Dynamite Steps, Dulli stays on track throughout the entire album. On previous albums, Dulli would occasionally try for a louder sound. A song featuring few guitars and more of a pop-mix sound. The opening track, 'Last Night in Town,' is the only track on the album that attempts this change from the guitar heavy songs. Since it is the opening track, it doesn't stand out as awkward. In fact, it's a great way to begin the album. A little something different.

The fourth track, 'Get Lucky,' has probably been played about thirty times since I heard the album at the start of the week. The song is a perfect Dulli song. The vocals, the music, the lyrics... this is the heart of The Twilight Singers. Following this song, two of the other best songs from the album: 'On the Corner' and 'Gunshots.'

The album doesn't shake or falter following these three great songs. It might mellow out a bit, but it doesn't break its pace. On 'Blackbird and the Fox,' Dulli sings alongside Ani Difranco. While Difranco hasn't been a strong presence in music in the past decade, her voice floats so perfectly alongside Dulli.

Dulli isn't always the great lyricist ("shut your legs and open your alibi"), but only moments later... in the same song, Dulli will surprise you with great lyrics. He's a dark, bar stool poet. He doesn't always sing in tune. At times, it may seem more drunken sing along than well produced album. That is what Dulli does. He creates an atmosphere. Few albums can really change a mood.

Dynamite Steps leaves me introspective and hopeful, but a little bit bitter. The best way to be.


Tuesday, February 15, 2011

The Mechanics of Homosexual Intercours, Lonely Christopher (2011)

It is sad that so few people will enjoy the stories in Lonely Christopher's debut collection of short stories. For one, the author's name is a bit distracting. Secondly, with a title like The Mechanics of Homosexual Intercourse, how many people will be willing to pick up the book? While the book does deal with homosexual themes from time to time, I wouldn't go so far as to call it queer lit solely. Sadly, Mr. Christopher has placed himself into a small fan base. I have to find peace with this decision.

The Mechanics of Homosexual Intercourse is one of two titles released through Dennis Cooper's "Little House on the Bowery" series. I am not always a fan of the selections Dennis Cooper makes. But, I am always interested. I was happy to find Lonely Christopher may be Cooper's greatest release since the series started. Christopher chooses his words like a poet would choose his words. This isn't surprising, as Christopher has previously released a handful of poetry chapbooks. A poet always makes a great short story writer because they know how to be exact. The specific is the realm they write in.

Lonely Christopher is a humorous writer with a dark streak. Most of the characters throughout the stories have strange names (Dumb, Right, Orange, Thorny, etc). Most of these, I was able to understand their naming. In the dark and honest story 'Nobody Understands Thorny When,' the main character's name is Thorny. How funny that this character would grow to be a thorn in the side of both his parents and his child molester? Also, the abductor/molester's name is Normal Chapter. Sadly, the time Thorny spends with this man is the most normal chapter in Thorny's life. And, what about the other boy... the final captor being named Timmy Victim (how often does a little Timmy fall down the well?). This is all very funny. In a very dark, and uncomfortable way.

A couple of the stories take place or make mention of a location called White Dog. In the short story 'Nobody Understands Thorny When' and 'Game Belly,' the reader is made aware of a location called White Dog. So, I was excited to see the final story called 'White Dog.' In hopes of making sense of the town's name and purpose within these stories. But, the final story is about a shopping trip. The strange habit and behavior of the grocery store shopper. It is funny. But, mostly, it is a great experiment in creative writing- make the mundane interesting. So, how does the town of White Dog play into this story? It doesn't. The woman only imagines a white dog inside the store. And, for her, it is the most beautiful and incredible experience of her life. Is this Lonely Christopher's way of making us understand the town of White Dog is really just this piece of fiction created for us to look at things differently?

My two favorite stories in the collection, the title story and 'Milk,' are the most interesting in the collection. They rise above the others. They make use of all the elements Christopher uses throughout the collection, but they felt more complete and complex. In 'Milk,' a horse is found in the family kitchen. And the way Christopher writes these chain of events is truly delightful. Almost like something I have never experienced before. It is strange to explain how the story of a horse in a kitchen could turn into so much, but Christopher does it. 'The Mechanics of Homosexual Intercourse' is a lovely tale of young love and the way we dissect the hell out of our relationships. A very playful, and touching examination of love.

The only stories I did not enjoy in the collection were 'The Pokemon Movie' (which I didn't complete) and 'Game Belly' (which I didn't understand). This is a collection I plan to revisit. A collection I plan to tell others about. This is the work of fiction to beat this year.


Let England Shake, PJ Harvey (2011)

I have long admired the work of PJ Harvey. Few female artists have constantly moved forward in their vocals, lyrics, and musical sound. Harvey started out with an alternative sound. A screaming, lo-fi feminist. Over time, she found a voice that didn't need to be hidden under static and crashing guitar. Harvey found a middle ground. For a few years, she experimented with this sound. Then, it was time for another change. Harvey went for a piano driven record. From there, where was Harvey to go? It seems she has answered these questions this year. With the release of Let England Shake, Harvey is showing she is restless, angry, and still knows where her voice is located.

Let England Shake is meant to be viewed as a song cycle. I discovered this from reading a few interviews and reviews. I listened to Let England Shake for about two weeks before posting this review. After two weeks, I'm still not entirely sure where I stand on this album. In fact, I don't imagine this review will end with a grade. How does one rate something they still aren't totally comfortable with? And, does Harvey want me to be comfortable? My guess... she has never been comfortable and sees no reason why any of her listeners should be.

Harvey's 2000 release, Stories From the City Stories From the Sea, will always remain my favorite of her albums. This is an album about location, New York City. Every track is an anthem to a night, an afternoon, a dream, a certain spot Harvey experienced in New York City. The album makes you forget Harvey isn't American. In many ways, it may be the best album about the city. Does it take an outsider to really see a place for what it is? Harvey doesn't think so. She is no longer singing as an outsider. On Let England Shake, Harvey has written her most (and only?) British album. An album about war. Mostly focused on the Great War. A song cycle about World War I? I know, doesn't sound right for Harvey. This is where all the trouble starts.

Harvey has never been one to shy away from dark, heavy lyrics. On Let England Shake, Harvey continues to throw violence at our ears. Images of soldiers dying, protests, and battles litter this album. Harvey isn't just singing about World War I, she's responding to today's war. She's responding to the way war doesn't change and doesn't change anything. But, at the same time, it isn't this simple. Harvey understands it is much more complicated. Almost an impossible concept to understand.

The album sounds like a collage. Many of the lyrics are overtop music that feels cut and paste. Music that doesn't always feel in the right place. At one point in the album, a war trumpet is heard a few times. It is out of place. Totally distracting. There is something so Dadaist about this album. I thought this after my first few listens. Then reading the Pitchfork review this evening, I was intrigued to see the reviewer mention surrealism and Dadaism as movements in response to World War I. I'm not sure they were pushing this theory far enough to suggest the album borrows from these movements. But, I believe Harvey was very much aware of what she was doing.

Let England Shake isn't one of those albums you sing along to. It isn't one of those albums you tell your friends about. It is one of those albums you respect. The type of album that sticks in your head longer than most albums. Harvey can be funny, serious, and dark. Harvey is an artist on a mission. She wants us to wake up. She wants to shake us. Music isn't always meant to be light. Music has a place alongside the masterpieces hanging in museums. Let England Shake is very much a composition depicting the scene of a battle.

Harvey is working with a war photographer to create a video for each song from the album. As of now, three of these videos have been released. They're sparse. Again, Harvey is letting the music do all the talking. But, this album wants to be noticed. Harvey wants to be heard.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Zonoscope, Cut Copy (2011)

Whenever I encounter a new Cut Copy album, it takes me a while to grow comfortable with the sound. On their first album, Bright Like Neon Love, I was hesitant about the sound because it sounded so middle of the road '80s. I love '80s music, and I love music that aims to sound like '80s music. But, something about Bright Like Neon Love sounded so familiar, it wasn't until I had the album for a few months that I really discovered my love for Cut Copy. On their second album, In Ghost Colours, I was taken back by the dance tracks. Most of the tracks on the album have such a great dance sound and was a little bit removed from the sounds I came to expect. It's great for a band to show growth. Cut Copy certainly shows growth.

Of course, I have grown to completely love In Ghost Colours. I find most tracks on the album to be perfect for summer. When I saw their brief,but fulfilling set at Lollapalooza... I knew they were a band to respect. They knew how to get the crowd jumping. They knew how to reel you in.

Now, their third release. I have given myself a couple of week with the tracks before deciding to form an opinion. Maybe this is still too soon. For now, I'm not as in love with this album as the previous album. On Zonoscope, Cut Copy seems to be creating perfect little pop gems. Not the kind of pop gems your cousins, aunts, and neighbors are going to be familiar with a la Britney Spears. But, the type of pop gem that would not feel out of place on a popular radio station. Or, in the background of a restaurant or club.

If I could sum up Zonoscope in one way, it would have to be Passion Pit's "The Reeling." I am not a fan of Passion Pit. There are a handful of songs I enjoy. For the most part, they're just kind of there. But, their track "The Reeling" is a really great track. And, I feel most of the songs on Zonoscope capture that free spirited, playful, party atmosphere of "The Reeling."

"Need You Now" is the albums opening track and feels like a remainder from In Ghost Colours. The track makes you want to dance and feels full of a lot more energy than the following tracks.

"Take Me Over" starts out sounding like a Men at Work song. The music borrowing heavily from "Land Down Under." At first, this distracts a bit from the song. But, by the tracks end... this need for the humorous reference is forgotten.

"Where I'm Going" feels out of place on the album. The music at the tracks opening reminds me of a Velvet Underground song. I half expect Lou Reed's nasal voice or Nico's too cool for you vocals to come swaying through.

"Pharaohs & Pyramids" is most likely to be the albums successful track. It isn't my favorite track on the album, but it feels as though it has that certain touch that would make for a great radio hit.

All in all, an enjoyable album. Not their best. And, to be honest, I don't think I was finished with In Ghost Colours. I am probably not quite ready for the new album. Maybe by the summer I'll be ready to blare these tracks from open car windows.


Wednesday, February 9, 2011

S/T, James Blake (2011)

What exactly is dubstep? How is it defined? Personally, I'm not fully sure. I read the definitions, I've listened to dubstep artists... but, in the end, it sounds a lot like a garage band doing remixes. There is something lo-fi to the mixing of the track. Maybe this is dubstep. Or, maybe I'm way off. But, a lot of reviewers are referring to James Blake as an singer/songwriter using dubstep. And, I feel lo-fi remixing is a lot of what James Blake has to offer.

If I had to compare James Blake's voice to someone, I'd have to say Antony Hagerty (of Antony and the Johnsons) meets Justin Vernon (of Bon Iver). There is something feminine, soft, and emotional to their sound. If I had to compare the music of James Blake to another artist, I would have to jump straight to How to Dress Well. Both bands deal with emotional lyrics in an R&B style with a bit of a remix. In the case of Blake, the remix is a lot more prominent. In fact, the remix is a lot of the point.

One could easily say James Blake is doing nothing new. He is singing sad songs in a very singer/songwriter style. All he is doing is adding something more to the music and lyrics. This could be the music of the sad white boy sitting in his basement trying to create something a little bit different. Something to get a little more attention. I think I'd take Blake either way. With the dubstep elements or without. There is something genuine in his act.

On Blake's debut album, Blake covers Feist's "Limit to Your Love." The track appears about halfway through the album. It was a nice surprise to hear something so familiar. For the most part, the track starts out sounding like a straight forward remix. But, as Blake shows throughout this record, he likes to add textures and layers to his tracks.

The albums second track, "Wilhelms Screams," is the most beautiful track on the album. Quite possibly the most haunting song I've heard in quite a while. Blake's voice is downright pained and heartbreaking. I can't make it through the song without finding myself ready to cry.

"I Never Learnt to Share" sounds like an attempt at a Marvin Gaye-esque "What's Going On?" The R&B influence of the album is most noticeable during this track (and the final track, "Measurements"). The song only has one line: 'my brother and sister don't speak to me, but I don't blame them.' Has anyone every said so much by saying so little? The repetition doesn't grow boring. As I said before, Blake likes to mature his songs, add more sound as the song moves along. The music Blake continues to add to the track keeps one distracted enough from the repetition.

I can't say I adore this album the same way so many other people claim to love this album. There is something about the music that keeps me at a distance from the lyrics and the voice. The album has a lot of really strong moments, but contains its fill of weaker moments. Not an unpleasant experience, but not always even.


Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Blue Songs, Hercules & Love Affair (2011)

I knew going into Hercules & Love Affair's second album that it was never going to compare to their self titled first album. The recycled, but fresh disco sounds of the first album were something to cherish. The album knew how to take itself seriously, but have a hell of a lot of doing so. And, no Hercules & Love Affair song will ever come close to their hit "Blind." "Blind" is sung by Antony of Antony & the Johnsons and sounds like a remix from one of their albums. It's just so perfect. So, where do you go from there?

Have you ever listened to an entire album the first time and thought "not bad?" Then, on your second listen been so shocked at how much you hate the album? This was my situation with Blue Songs. To make matters worse, it was the only CD in my car for three days (as I continued to forget to bring my iPod or another CD with me). By the end of those three days, I found myself removing the disc and throwing it to the other end of my car. It now rests somewhere in the trunk space.

The album starts out pretty perfect. The first twenty seconds of "Painted Houses" sounds like an opener to a song off Depeche Mode's Violator. And, the song sounds less like Depeche Mode as it continues, but it still remains an enjoyable song. Actually, maybe the only really enjoyable song on the album. Although, the second track, "My House," is a pretty nice follow up to the opening track.

Honestly, that is where this ends. The fun lasts for two tracks and then Hercules & Love Affair decides to try something... new? "Blue Boy," the albums fifth track, is filled with enough softcore sounds to make you want to scream. Are they trying to sound adult contemporary christian rock on this track? That is all I can hear. Just because a song is sung in a high voice, softly does not mean it is beautiful or deep (ie any Celine Dion song proves softly sung still leads to meaningless music). The following song, "Blue Song," is pretty mediocre. Not as bad as "Blue Boy," but this means very little.

The albums only other saving grace is the slightly above average "Step Up." The song features Kele Okereke of Bloc Party. The lyrics are repetitive. And, nothing special. But, Kele's voice is always welcomed.

The album ends with "It's Alright." I swear to shit this song is trying to be the next "We Are the World." The lyrics are so forced. The voice is so obnoxious. The music is simple minded. What happened to Hercules & Love Affair?

I can't imagine I'll hate any other album this year as much as I hate Blue Songs.